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Inside the Matchup
Wildcard Weekend

By: Andy Swanson | Jason Katz | Nick Caron | HC Green





- Green highllight indicates plus matchup (top eight)
- Red highlight indicates negative matchup (bottom eight)

Bills @ Texans - (Green)
Line: HOU - 2.5
Total: 43.5

Passing Game Thoughts: With the team locked into the No. 5 seed, Josh Allen played just a handful of snaps last Sunday before giving way to Matt Barkley -- it was the second time Barkley relived Allen this year, the other coming in Week 4 when a head injury sidelined Buffalo's dual-threat triggerman. If you focus only on the 14 games that Allen played in full, his per-game averages come out to 209 passing yards, 35 rushing yards and 2 TDs (1.4 passing, 0.6 rushing).

Allen's top weapon is John Brown, who was inactive last week to rest up for the Wild Card round. Over his 15 games, Brown averaged 4.8 receptions, 70.7 yards and 0.4 TDs per game; his 1,060 receiving yards made him the first Bill to top the 1,000-yard mark since Sammy Watkins in 2015. It's a two-man operation in the passing game, and the only other name to know is Cole Beasley, who finished second on the team in targets (106), receptions (67) and receiving yards (778) while matching Brown in TDs (six).

That group will face a Texans defense that finished 29th against the pass during the regular season, allowing 267.2 yards per game. Houston brings a banged-up secondary into this matchup; they placed Tashaun Gipson (back) on IR and are also dealing with injuries to S Jahleel Addae (Achilles) and CBs Johnathan Joseph (hamstring) and Bradley Roby (hamstring). They can only hope the return of J.J. Watt (pec) will boost the pass rush and limit Allen's time in the pocket.

HOU FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.3
HOU FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.8
HOU FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.13
HOU FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.9

Running Game Thoughts: As with Brown, top runner Devin Singletary was held out of action last Sunday to rest up for this matchup. Singletary became the primary back around midseason and averaged 17.2 carries for 77.7 yards over his final six games as the ageless Frank Gore stepped into a complementary role: Gore averaged 9.8 carries and 24.8 yards during that same stretch, though he only appeared in five games.

Look for Singletary to see most the work against Houston, who allowed 121.1 yards per contest on the ground (25th); and don't expect a boost from Watt's return, either, as he is expected to be on a snap count.

Value Meter:
QB1: Josh Allen
RB2: Devin Singletary
WR2: John Brown
Flex: Cole Beasley
Bench: Frank Gore

Passing Game Thoughts: By the time the Texans kicked off, they'd already been locked into the No. 4 seed. That caused Bill O'Brien to pivot to AJ McCarron, allowing Deshaun Watson to rest up for the playoffs. Watson started fast in 2019 but had few big games as the season wore on, failing to pass for more than 300 yards in a game after Oct. 20. He was also more mistake prone, tossing five picks in four December contests. For the year he averaged 256.8 passing yards and 1.7 TDs per game. Like Allen, however, Watson adds value with his legs, running for 413 yards and seven scores.

As with Watson, DeAndre Hopkins was technically active last week but didn't see the field, allowing him to finish 2019 with 104 receptions, 1,165 yards and seven TDs across 15 games. He's probably the preeminent receiver in the AFC right now, though his job would be made much easier if Will Fuller (groin) can return from yet another injury in time to take the field Saturday. History says it's an iffy proposition, and if Fuller is out, Kenny Stills (40-561-4) should step into the de facto No.2 role. Everyone suffers minus Fuller's deep speed, though, especially against an aggressive Bills defense.

Buffalo presents a tough matchup, having allowed just 195.2 passing yards per game this season, good for fourth-best in the NFL. Starting CB Levi Wallace (ankle) was carted off with an ankle injury in Week 17 but returned to practice on Wednesday, which is a good sign for his availability. The Bills also have Tre'Davious White and former Texans first-rounder Kevin Johnson, so expect them to challenge Houston's receivers.

BUF FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.30
BUF FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.21
BUF FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.30
BUF FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.30

Running Game Thoughts: With both playing sparingly in Week 17, Carlos Hyde finished the season with 245 carries, 1,070 yards and eight TDs, dwarfing the contributions of Duke Johnson (83-410-2). The respite should be beneficial for Hyde, who may need to do some heavy lifting in what figures to be a low-scoring affair. Johnson, meanwhile, continues to function as a passing-down/change-of-pace option alongside Hyde. Against the 10th-ranked run defense (103.1 yards allowed per game), I expect to see the Texans test Buffalo's resolve along the line of scrimmage.

Value Meter:
QB1: Deshaun Watson
RB3: Carlos Hyde
Flex: Duke Johnson
WR1: DeAndre Hopkins
WR3: Will Fuller (if he plays)
WR3/Flex: Kenny Stills (if Fuller does not play)

Prediction: Bills 17, Texans 13 ^ Top

Titans at Patriots - (Katz)
Line: NE -4.5
Total: 44.0

Passing Game Thoughts: Since Ryan Tannehill took over for Marcus Mariota in Week 7, only Lamar Jackson has been a better fantasy quarterback. Despite Tannehill’s success, it’s hard to get excited over a wild card weekend trip to New England against a Patriots’ defense that recorded 25 interceptions while allowing just 13 touchdown passes. The Patriots allowed just 180.4 passing yards per game this season. Whether you are choosing a full playoff roster or selecting a player from each team weekly, I can’t recommend Tannehill this week. The same goes for breakout rookie receiver, A.J. Brown. He will likely be shadowed by Stephon Gilmore, which would presumably open things up for Corey Davis, but for lack of complex analysis, Davis has struggled to be fantasy relevant this year. Jonnu Smith posted three TE1 finishes during the fantasy playoffs, but saw more than five targets in a game just twice all season. He is not an option.

NE FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.32
NE FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.32
NE FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.32
NE FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.23

Running Game Thoughts: The premier fantasy option on the Titans is Derrick Henry. The Patriots are more vulnerable on the ground than through the air and with the Titans likely losing this game, those of you in formats where you can only choose a player once might be well served to take a shot on Henry this week. The Patriots allow 4.2 yards per carry and allowed a season low seven rushing touchdowns this season, but running the ball has still been more effective than passing it. The Titans are going to pound Henry for as long as they can and chasing volume is never a bad idea in fantasy football.

Value Meter:
QB2: Ryan Tannehill
RB1: Derrick Henry
WR3: A.J. Brown
Bench: Jonnu Smith, Dion Lewis, Corey Davis

Passing Game Thoughts: We’ve seen this story before. A struggling Patriots offense comes together for a magical postseason run. Will it happen again? At this point, we can’t rule it out completely, but it sure looks like we’re nearing the end of the road for Tom Brady. Simply put, he was bad this season. He finished as the overall QB15 and is arguably the second worst option at quarterback in the opening round of the playoffs.

The Titans allowed 18.9 fantasy points per game to quarterbacks this season, which would be a win for Brady, who averaged just 17.1 FPts/G. The real prize from this matchup is Julian Edelman. If you are choosing one Patriot or can only choose Edelman once throughout the playoffs or even in full length playoff formats, you need to have Edelman on your roster. Titans’ slot corner Logan Ryan allowed the most receptions, yards, and touchdowns this season to the slot. Edelman lined up in the slot 53.9% of the time this season, but you can rest assured that Bill Belichick is aware of this mismatch and plans to exploit it. Expect to see Edelman’s slot percentage higher than normal this Saturday. Regardless of your format, it’s hard to get behind any other Patriots pass catcher. N’Keal Harry is a rookie and has yet to see more than four targets in a game. Phillip Dorsett caught more than three passes in a game just twice all season and is just a touchdown or bust hopeful. Neither Matt LaCosse nor Ben Watson are anywhere near relevant. Go heavy on Edelman and fade the rest.

TEN FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.15
TEN FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.15
TEN FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.17
TEN FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.4

Running Game Thoughts: James White seems like a safe, floor option if you want to go that route (although that’s not typically how you win playoff leagues, regardless of format). However, Belichick is liable to do anything with his three running backs. White is clearly the top option, but would it really surprise anyone if Sony Michel suddenly got 20 touches or Rex Burkhead played over 50% of the snaps? It’s happened before.

The Titans allowed 14 rushing touchdowns this season and 16.7 fantasy points per game to RB1s. Michel saw 19 and 21 carries in Weeks 15 and 16, respectively, but he’s just so bad that he managed just an RB28 finish in both games. There is nothing that could convince me to put Michel on any playoff roster. White reached double digit fantasy points in each of his first eight games, but did so just three of his final six games. Still, he’s more likely to hit double digits than not and the second most deserving Patriot of a spot on your roster behind Edelman. Burkhead is nothing more than a DFS super contrarian play. For what it’s worth, he posted RB2 numbers in Weeks 15 and 16, but he played just 26.2% and 14.7% of the snaps.

Value Meter:
QB2: Tom Brady
RB2: James White
WR1: Julian Edelman
Bench: Sony Michel, N’Keal Harry, Phillip Dorsett

Prediction: Patriots 24, Titans 17 ^ Top

Vikings @ Saints - (Swanson)
Line: NO -8.0
Total: 49.0

Passing Game Thoughts: The Vikings head south to take on the New Orleans Saints in the Wild Card round of the NFL playoffs at the Mercedes Benz Super Dome. The two teams combined to win an impressive 23 games this season, with the Saints failing to secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, despite posting 13 wins.

Kirk Cousins wrapped up his second season as the starting quarterback for Minnesota with 3603 passing yards, with 26 touchdowns and six interceptions. The six picks were the fewest of his career, and the former Michigan State Spartan game just. .9 percentage points from posting his second consecutive season with a completion percentage of over 70%.

For fantasy purposes, Cousins had an impressive streak of three monster games with an average of 29.63 points between Weeks 5 and 7. Outside of those three weeks, he was replacement level at best, and his 19.8 points per game placed him 22nd among quarterbacks with at least ten starts.

For the Vikings to go into New Orleans and beat the Saints, Cousins will need to have Adam Thielen play at the pro bowl level he produced in the previous two seasons. A hamstring injury limited Thielen for most of the season, including the last two in which he was on the field, but clearly limited by the ailment. Hopefully, the extra week of rest last week in a meaningless game against the Bears will give Thielen more time to heal.

The Saints gave up the 11th-most points to opposing quarterbacks, with four opposing signal-callers posting at least three passing touchdowns against Dennis Allen’s defense. Despite having one of the best cornerbacks in the league in Marcus Lattimore, the Saints finished the year giving up the 6th-most points to opposing wide receivers.

The 49ers torched the New Orleans secondary for three receiving touchdowns when the two teams had their epic battle back in Week 14, and Tajae Sharpe followed with two more touchdowns the following week.

NO FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.11
NO FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.29
NO FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.6
NO FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.24

Running Game Thoughts: The running game provided by Dalvin Cook is the key to the success of the Vikings in this game. The Vikings will look to lean heavily on Cook to control time of possession, shorten the game and keep Drew Brees on the sideline, and impose their will on a defense that ranks among the best in run defense.

Running the ball will be easier said than done. Only the 49ers, Bucs, and Patriots have allowed fewer fantasy points to opposing backs, and no single running back in 2019 topped 100 rushing yards against the Saints.

Part of the reason why teams have struggled against the Saints is New Orleans boasts a stout defensive line. In addition, negative game sprites have forced teams to abandon the run earlier than they would like.

An injury to watch for the Saints will be defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, a talented run-stopping defensive lineman who missed most of the season with an Achilles injury. Rankins has been a limited participant in practice this week and could return to the lineup on Sunday.

Value Meter:
QB1: Kirk Cousins (Low-End)
RB1: Dalvin Cooks (Elite)
WR1: Stefon Diggs Low-End)
WR3: Adam Thielen (High-End)
TE1: Kyle Rudolph (Low-End)

Passing Game Thoughts: Drew Brees finished the NFL regular season as the No.6 ranked quarterback in fantasy points per game (minimum of 10 starts), with an impressive 27 passing touchdowns and only four interceptions. Brees put up his best fantasy season since 2016 and came up just short in breaking his own NFL record for completion percentage in a season.

Michael Thomas proved to be head and shoulders above all other fantasy wide receivers in 2019 with 225.6 fantasy points. Thomas posted a league-best 1725 receiving yards, with nine touchdowns, and an NFL-record 149 receptions. In full point PPR, Thomas proved to be a cheat code at the position.

The former cheat code in New Orleans, Alvin Kamara, came crashing down in both the passing and ground game for fantasy owners, finishing as the No. 15 running back after going in the top five of most fantasy drafts this summer. Kamara caught the same 81 passes as the previous year but managed only 533 receiving yards and just one receiving touchdown.

Jared Cook proved to be a league-winning tight end for owners who hung onto him through a rough start. Only Mark Andrews and George Kittle scored more fantasy points than Cook over the past three games of 2019.

The 49ers and other top defenses can attest that the Saints are nearly an impossible offense to stop when playing against them in the Super Dome. The Niners entered their Week 14 tilt as the top defense in the league in pass defense, only to have Brees light them up for 349 yards and five passing touchdowns.

The addition of Cook has given Brees a much-needed big body in the red zone, while Michael Thomas lived up to his twitter handle as unguardable.

From a matchup standpoint, the way to beat the Vikings this season has been through the air and not the ground, which fits in well with what the Saints do well offensively. While head coach Sean Payton will no doubt try to establish the run and feature his two-headed attack of Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray, Michael Thomas should have no issue getting open in one-on-one coverage with Xavier Rhodes.

Should Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer try to double team Thomas, Brees will have no qualms giving Cook, a big-bodied wide receiver who happens to play tight end, more work than usual.

Surprisingly, the Vikings gave up the 8th-most points to wide receivers this season after giving up the second-fewest in 2018. When Zimmer’s pass rush and blitz schemes have not worked at getting pressure on the quarterback, opposing QBs have not had much trouble burning an old and past their prime secondary.

MIN FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.23
MIN FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.19
MIN FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.8
MIN FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.31

Running Game Thoughts: The drop-off in running back fantasy production for the Saints this season was dramatic. After finishing as the No.1 rushing team in 2018 and 2017, the Saints running backs combined to score the 16th most fantasy points this season, behind the Cardinals, Colts, and even the Raiders.

Alvin Kamara actually improved his yard per carry average by a tenth of a point, but he managed just five rushing touchdowns, and six total TDs aver sporting 18 total touchdowns in 2018.

There are a few factors that led to the drastic decline. The retirement of center Max Unger and injures to Andrus Peat and Terron Armstead limited the number of holes created by the offensive line, and Kamara himself was not healthy in the middle part of the season.

Minnesota is often thought of as a strong run defense, with a defensive line filled with studs like Everson Griffin, Linval Joseph, and Danielle Hunter. While that has been the case in previous seasons, the Vikings are not a hard team to run against, and the Saints could surprise people will how well they run the ball on Sunday.

The Vikings finished the season giving up the seventh-most points to running backs in the final five games of the year, including back-to-back 100-yard rushing games to Aaron Jones and David Montgomery. Jones torched the Vikes for 154 yards and two touchdowns, and topped 100 yards in both games against Minnesota in 2019.

Value Meter:
QB1: Drew Brees (High-End)
RB1: Alvin Kamara (Low-End)
WR1: Michael Thomas (Elite)
WR3: Tre’Quan Smith (High-End)
TE1: Jared Cook (High-End)

Prediction: New Orleans 34, Minnesota 21 ^ Top

Seahawks @ Eagles - (Caron)
Line: SEA -2.0
Total: 45.5

Passing Game Thoughts: Russell Wilson finished the 2019 regular season with his first 20-point fantasy day since all the way back in Week 9, as he finished with 20.2 fantasy points against a good 49ers defense. Wilson’s first three quarters of the game were much like his previous six games where the team didn’t wanted to move the ball through the air, but he - as usual - turned things on in the fourth quarter where he contributed almost 150 of his 233 passing yards.

The truth is, the Seahawks are still a very run-heavy offense and while we might have hope that they would lean more on Wilson heading into the playoffs now that both Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny are out for the season, that doesn’t appear to be the case as long as the Seahawks are in a neutral or positive game script. It took the team being down 20-7 going into the fourth quarter for them to finally turn things over to Wilson and the passing game. Of course, they put up two touchdowns in that final quarter, doubling their points scored in the first three quarters, but it was too little, too late as they fell short to the 49ers.

With Wilson not being given control of the offense, the Seahawks passing game weapons are capped at a mid-level range. Sure, we know that Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf are capable of producing WR1 performances but they haven’t been doing so down the stretch and it doesn’t seem likely that they’re going to start now.

Of course, this passing game does get to face a Philadelphia secondary that was quite giving to opposing wide receivers throughout the regular season where they conceded the third-most fantasy points to the position. Oddly enough, though, one of their best performances of the season came against this very same Seattle passing game when they held Tyler Lockett to just one catch for 38 yards and Metcalf to 35 yards with neither getting into the end zone.

Seahawks tight end Jacob Hollister has been ice cold through the second half of the season and he also struggled against the Eagles, catching just two of the four targets that came his way for 22 yards. The tight end position is ugly and most of the top tight ends in playoff leagues have first round byes so you could do worse than Hollister, but don’t expect much from him.

PHI FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.18
PHI FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.28
PHI FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.3
PHI FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.27

Running Game Thoughts: As was stated above, the Seahawks had no problem feeding touches to a practically unknown, sixth-round draft pick at running back this past week and a veteran who was not on a roster for the first 16 weeks of the season in what was an extremely important game for their playoff seeding. Travis Homer and Marshawn Lynch combined for 27 touches against the 49ers despite the team never leading on the scoreboard.

While that might make anti-”establish-the-run” analysts pull their hair out, it does give us some insight about what Seattle will likely try to do again this week against the Eagles. We saw this offense punish the Philadelphia defense with the running game back in Week 12 when Rashaad Penny smacked them for 129 yards and a touchdown on the ground while Chris Carson contributed another 57 total yards of offense. It should be assumed that Homer and Lynch will again be splitting snaps with Homer likely getting more passing game work while Lynch will almost certainly be the team’s primary goal line back. This means that while both players are fantasy viable, they’re probably also going to eat into one another’s touches enough that neither of them will end up having a truly outstanding fantasy day.

Value Meter:
QB2: Russell Wilson
RB2: Marshawn Lynch, Travis Homer
WR2: Tyler Lockett, D.K. Metcalf
TE1: Jacob Hollister
Bench: David Moore, Luke Willson

Passing Game Thoughts: Carson Wentz’s production down the stretch has been impressive from a fantasy standpoint as he finished the 2019 regular season with five straight games of 17 or more fantasy points despite throwing to a mostly unknown group of wide receivers. Sure, he does have perhaps the league’s best tight end duo and some playmakers at running back, but Wentz has proven himself to be a reliable fantasy quarterback in some tough spots.

We should expect that to continue here in the wild card round of the playoffs. Wentz did suffer one of his worst performances of the season against this team back in Week 12 when he finished with under 10 fantasy points, throwing for 256 yards, just one touchdown and a season-worst two interceptions. We do know that Wentz is one of the better QBs in the league at limiting turnovers, however, so we really shouldn’t be overly concerned about that one game blip on the radar. The larger sample size tells us that Wentz should be good for around 250 to 300 passing yards, at least one passing touchdown and probably no interceptions. That line alone will almost certainly make him a top-half QB this week.

The real question is about who he’s going to be throwing the ball to. While he’s been making it work with this thrown-together group of wideouts, the only one who’s been doing much of anything with any sort of consistency is Greg Ward, who has now caught at least four passes in four straight contests. He hasn’t been spectacular, but he’s been a decent weapon and could be utilized more this week especially if tight end Zach Ertz is unable to make it on the field.

Ertz missed Week 17 with a rib and kidney injury that he sustained in Week 16’s game against the Cowboys. While he’s been able to practice in a limited capacity, there’s no guarantee that he gets cleared for contact and is activated for this weekend’s game. Thus fantasy owners should be very careful in relying on him this week, especially in weekly formats where you wouldn’t be allowed to play him in subsequent weeks if the Eagles make it. Ertz is probably the third or fourth best tight end in all of fantasy football, however, and he’d almost certainly be ready for the divisional round so he’s still a very viable TE1 if you’re looking at drafting him and he’d be a definite starter if he is active.

If Ertz is unable to go, look for another heavy workload for second-year tight end Dallas Goedert. Goedert was one of the only “handcuff” tight ends in fantasy football this season and he had showed up from time to time with some decent numbers, even finishing as a top-10 tight end in PPR leagues, but we really got to see what he could do these past two weeks when Ertz has been missing time. Goedert was targeted 12 times against the Cowboys in Week 16 and 10 times against the Giants in Week 17, which is an extraordinarily high number for the position. If Ertz is unavailable, Goedert likely becomes the top tight end on the board for the week and certainly one that you’d want to use in your one-and-done playoff formats.

SEA FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.14
SEA FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.11
SEA FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.18
SEA FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.3

Running Game Thoughts: Rookie Miles Sanders finished his 2019 season on a bit of a downer as he was taken out of the game after a minor ankle sprain. Sanders absolutely dominated Weeks 15 and 16 for fantasy owners, however, and it is believed that he’ll be ready to play this weekend. If he does, look for another heavy workload game for the breakout rookie as the Eagles utilize him all over the field as a runner, a screen pass receiver and even a downfield threat at times. He’s an athletic nightmare for defenses to account for and the Philadelphia coaching staff has continually put him in great situations to make use of his skills. The running back position is deeper in Round 1 than it typically is, but Sanders should still qualify as an RB1.

Teammate Boston Scott will likely also have a role in Sunday’s game against the Seahawks, especially if Sanders is unexpectedly inactive. Jordan Howard is expected to get some work this week which could otherwise limit Scott’s upside, but still - we saw that Scott can be a big-time fantasy contributor this past week when he turned in a monstrous 138 total yard, three touchdown performance against the Giants. Scott is a low-end RB2 and we’ll bench Howard for now, but keep an eye on him and see what type of snap share he gets. If he’s on the field for at least 30 percent of the Eagles’ snaps then that likely means he’ll ascend back up the depth chart for the Divisional round if the Eagles are able to make it that far.

Value Meter:
QB1: Carson Wentz
RB1: Miles Sanders
RB2: Boston Scott
WR3: Greg Ward
TE1: Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert
Bench: Jordan Howard, Nelson Agholor, JJ Arcega-Whiteside

Prediction: Eagles 24, Seahawks 21 ^ Top